A recent federal court decision has spurred the town to take a new look at its regulations for canvassers and peddlers.
In 2013, both the Town Council and Loudoun Board of Supervisors adopted ordinances restricting the ability of canvassers, peddlers and solicitors to solicit donations, either for themselves or for charitable organizations, on streets and in highway medians. But recent rulings by both the Supreme Court and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit have ruled similar laws to be unconstitutional.
Town Attorney Barbara Notar has worked with Leesburg Police Chief Gregory Brown to draft some changes to the Town Code that would bring the town’s rules in line with the law. The council initiated those amendments at its Nov. 14 meeting, but the discussion will come back for a full vetting by the council and public hearing prior to a vote.
The recent court rulings have determined that soliciting in public areas like town streets, medians and parks, is “protected speech” under the U.S. Constitution, and thus ordinances that prohibit these activities are unconstitutional.
“Any regulation we have that restricts speech in those protected spaces is going to be under immediate scrutiny,” Notar told the council Nov. 14.
Notar and Brown have both suggested the council consider modeling its ordinance after one adopted by the Town of Christiansburg to withstand legal challenges. That ordinance states that no pedestrian and operator of a motor vehicle shall exchange or attempt to exchange any item while the motor vehicle is located in traffic or a travel lane on roadways. This ordinance then restricts behavior on the conduct or action, not free speech, Notar said.
The proposed Town Code amendments would also exempt from registration all legitimate charitable solicitors; and notify the public of the right to ban solicitors from their homes or in neighborhoods where homeowners associations control private streets. Individuals cannot be banned from public streets and sidewalks.
An amendment is also proposed as it pertains to town parks, to clean up language that makes it clear that protected speech activities are permitted in the parks, but littering and attaching pamphlets to trees or rocks is not.
According to a staff memo, the Loudoun County Attorney’s Office is also reviewing the recent legal challenges, as well as the Town of Christiansburg’s ordinance.
The vote to initiate the code amendments passed by a 6-0-1 vote Nov. 14, with Councilman Ken Reid absent.